BuzzFeed and Advertising

This past week we delved into the advertising world. I particularly enjoyed this past week’s readings and asynchronous homework which is a good sign that specializing in advertising might be the way to go! I still have some time to decide, but until then I’ve been working on my case study for class.

My case study is about how BuzzFeed uses social content to drive their native ad approach. It took me several days to figure out what I wanted to research and write about. I chose BuzzFeed because it has grown into one of the most successful digital publishers. Huge brands and companies are now turning to BuzzFeed in an effort to try to emulate the brand’s methods and approaches to both content production and advertising.

With the help of Dr. Strahler, I was able to narrow down my case study and I’m in the midst of writing the analytical portion of my final paper. So far, I’ve nabbed an interview with BuzzFeed Creative Director Melissa Rosenthal. If you do a little research, you’ll find she’s young in age, but extremely bright.

Forbes featured her in their 2014 30 Under 30 list and Buzzfeed staff say Melissa is not only extremely capable but also a pioneer in launching BuzzFeed’s current advertising approach and content production methods. Melissa works with a large 40+ member team to produce campaigns for clients around the world — one of their first was General Electric.

These campaigns turn into native ads where BuzzFeed features articles that have the same exact look and feel as the BuzzFeed brand with a small note at the top that says “Sponsored Ad” or “Sponsored by…” to inform readers that what they are reading is, in fact, a native ad. But it’s a native ad that is so well integrated onto the BuzzFeed page, that no one would even realize it’s an ad. When I heard this approach, I thought: That’s the way to advertise.

No one wants to (or enjoys) visiting a website only to be interrupted by a huge banner ad or a pop-up that says “Continue in 12 seconds.” Melissa refers to that type of advertising as “disruptive,” and I couldn’t agree more.

These are just some of the highlights from my discussion with BuzzFeed’s creative director and I’m so excited to share the rest of my interview in my case study.

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Information + Digital Age

We’ve all heard the term “Information Age” and we’re all, for the most part, pretty familiar with the digital world. In Week 8 of Intro to Digital Communications, we discussed how journalism and journalism ethics and values have been affected by both the information age and the digital world, era, whatever you want to call it. Here, I’ll briefly discuss different views on how journalism and the media industry is shifting and, as a refresher, I’ll list the age-old journalism values that still exist today.

According to Dr. Strahler, some argue that the information age has led to too much unchecked data, too much unthoughtful discussion. We’re also in an era where we want information right now, not tomorrow, which isn’t the best for print media like newspapers which publish daily, not every second.

Because the public’s values and lifestyles are changing so much, journalists and media outlets have been scrambling to navigate the digital space, adapt to these changes and discover new, innovative, creative ways of delivering a compelling story without losing the target audience. For the most part, I’d argue that media outlets and publications are doing just fine. 

One of my peers mentioned that for the last several years, we’ve heard things like “print media is sinking,” but print publications like Vogue or TIME have quickly and successfully figured out how to stay afloat by leveraging digital platforms. They understand that most people watch more videos on their phone than on the actual television, for example. In fact, 25% of online video viewers are watching less TV than they were a year ago, one survey reports.

In order to target frequent visitors, publications now have an entire video library on the website, making visitors feel as though what they’re seeing is exclusive and one of a kind. So yes, in that small example, the media landscape is changing but journalism isn’t disappearing and neither is print media. It’s simply about readjusting the approach and reaching audiences in more organic and creative ways.

Additionally, journalists now have an immense responsibility to fact check and deliver accurate news now that there’s a constant influx of “news” all over the Internet from tons of sources — both reliable and not. Not only that, but journalists are not just competing with each other anymore; citizen journalists (or everyday people reporting news) are now frequently breaking news before a professional journalist does.

Professor Robert Picard of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says that the media is “increasingly relying on photos, videos and information provided by citizen journalists.” Indeed, this seems to be the case. Think Ferguson riots and people posting live photos or videos of it on Twitter, or the recent tragedy that took place in Virginia when one WDBJ7 reporter and cameraman were shot live on television and the perpetrator posted the video on social media.

What does this call for? Certainly a need for journalists to build more media literacy…in being able to filter out the bad material (or non-credible) that’s available and push out the good.

I’ll leave you with the following journalistic values that still exist today.

  • Neutral
  • Truthful
  • Accurate
  • Objective / Unbiased
  • Accountable
  • Public Interest First
  • Oh…and remember to cover all angles of a story!

How Big Data Has Changed the Shopping Experience

For week 7 of Intro to Digital Communications, we discussed big data — what it means and how it has transformed industries including sports, health care and, what I’ll be covering tonight, retail.

Big Data seems like a loaded term, but when my peers and I dissected it in class, we all came to a similar conclusion that big data is a fancy way of saying there’s a lot of data available to us, ready to be mined, analyzed and used, and all industries are finding interesting ways to do so.

When it comes to the shopping experience, retailers are tapping into big data, finding talented data analysts and scientists and leveraging what they discover, which ultimately provides retailers with a unique competitive advantage. In a Forbes article, writer Kashmir Hill details an incident when an outraged father stormed the retail giant Target asking why his young daughter received coupons and ads for maternity wear and baby products. Turns out, Target knew exactly what they were doing.

According to the article, “Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number, tied to their credit card, name, or email address that becomes a bucket that stores a history of everything they’ve bought and any demographic information Target has collected from them or bought from other sources.” A Target statistician analyzed buying data for women who were signing up for baby registries at Target — little did the outraged father know, his daughter was one of those women. But by leveraging data in this way, retailers are able to personalize the shopping experience for every single consumer based on their current interests or values.

Fifteen years ago, this kind of personalized shopping experience didn’t exist. When I say “this kind” I mean the personalized coupons in the mail, the advertisements of the last product you looked at that follow you on the Internet, and the list of product recommendations that appear on the side of Facebook, Amazon, Target sites and more. Not only that, but retailers are also using big data to alter customers’ shopping experience inside the store — not just online — by shifting the interior layout and design.

A New York Times blog post touches on this topic and clearly explains how this is done in retailers such as CVS and Walmart. CVS, for example, shuffled its products around after analysts looked at buying data and found that most customers who purchase toothpaste and floss also purchase beauty products; so, of course, you’ll now find toothpaste near the strawberry lip gloss. At the same time, CVS leveraged data to better understand the needs of its customers and found that frequent customers were those who visited the pharmacy a lot and the needs of customers vary based on geographic location.

While this new shopping experience is certainly convenient and, in some cases, fun, I have to mention that big data doesn’t come without risks. Think Target data breach, for example.

So, just be wary and the next time you enter your favorite retail store and wonder why the snack aisle is first or why the floss is next to the cosmetics, just remember: Big Data.